Top Five Most Important Iowa Football Wins

Iowa upset the third ranked team in the nation on Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, and the win could not have come at a better time for the football program. It was certainly one of the biggest wins in team history, but just how far up the list does it rank? Publisher Jon Miller lists his Top Five.

Iowa upset the third ranked team in the nation on Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, and the win could not have come at a better time for the football program.  In my opinion, the win validates what had been a close but not cigar season for the Hawks, as they had lost four games by a combined 12 points. 


This is a pretty darned good football team, is what I think this win underscored, that beat itself more often than its opponent did.  Iowa, now at 6-4, has a chance to wind up the regular season at 8-4, which is where I predicted them to finish before the season began.  No, I didn't predict them to lose to Northwestern or Illinois, nor did I predict them to beat Penn State.  I did predict them to lose at Minnesota, too, but I wouldn't make that pick right now.


As I spent time at church on Sunday, several people asked me the following question; where does this game rank in Iowa football history?


I will take a crack at that question in this column.  Of course, this is just my opinion and I will list my rationale for my rankings.


I am going to compile a list of the most significant wins since 1961, which spans nearly the past 50 years of Iowa football.


Number Five:  Iowa 9, Michigan 7, October 17th 1981


The Hawkeyes came to Michigan Stadium having not won a game there since 1958.  Three Tom Nichol field goals later, and the Hawks had upset the 5th ranked team in the nation, their third upset of a Top Six rated foe in the 1981 season.  Iowa moved to 5-1 with that win, 3-0 in the Big Ten standings.  The Hawks were on the road to an unlikely destiny; a trip to Pasadena.


Number Four:  Iowa 30, LSU 25, January 1st, 2005


Some of you may place this game higher in your memory bank of the greatest days you have ever experienced as a Hawkeye fan, and I will not argue with you.  But had Iowa lost that game, they still would have been 9-3, they were still playing in their third straight January bowl game and they had already won an improbably Big Ten title.  However, it was still very important, as Iowa went on to finish #8 in the polls, the third straight time they ended a season ranked #8.  And of course, the game ended with Drew Tate finding Warren Holloway on a bomb, one of the most dramatic finishes to a bowl game in college football history.


Number Three:  Iowa 12, Michigan 10, October 19th, 1985


It was billed as the game of the century prior to kickoff.  The skies were gray and there was moisture in the air.  It was televised to a national CBS audience, with Brent Musburger and Ara Pasegian doing the game.  Iowa flat dominated this contest, gaining over 400 yards to less than 200 for Michigan, and there were some questionable officiating calls that in this day and age of instant replay would have taken away the need for the fourth quarter dramatics (Scott Helverson was in bounds on a touchdown pass, but was ruled out of bounds).  But then we would have been robbed of one of the greatest days in our Hawkeye lives; Rob Houghtlin's 29-yard field goal as time expired, lifting Iowa over the Wolverines.  This was an important game, as much of the nation watched.  But Iowa came into the game #1; had they earned the #1 ranking with the win, I think I would rank this game at #2. 


Number Two:  Iowa 24, Penn State 23   November 8th, 2008


Iowa came into this game with a 5-4 record, with the four losses coming by a combined 12 points.  What could have been one of Kirk Ferentz's best and most successful teams, possibly one that could have won a Big Ten title, couldn't finish the close ones.  Iowa came into the game having lost its previous nine games where the final margin of victory was by three points or less, which was the longest such streak in the nation.  That streak began after Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway in walk off fashion to win the 2005 Capital One Bowl.  It seemed since that shocking win, most of the breaks had gone to the opponent, as Iowa came into the Penn State game with a record of 24-22 since their win against LSU.


Iowa's program needed this win very badly, and it seemed improbable after a first half where Penn State dominated in nearly every phase of the game except for the scoreboard:  18 first downs to five for Iowa, 203 total yards to 70, 23:34 to 5:26 in time of possession, 47 plays to 15. 


Yet the Hawks somehow turned the table in the second half, running 42 plays to PSU's 33, outgaining Penn State 202 to 86, 14 first downs to PSU's six.  Iowa overcame two second half turnovers that led to short field drives of 10 points of the Nittany Lions, plus Iowa committed a personal foul roughing the punter penalty midway through the fourth quarter which was like another turnover.  Yet the Hawks put together a 15-play, game winning drive on one of the top 10 defenses in the nation, and Daniel Murray's 31 yard field goal with :01 second left in the game conjured up images of the 1985 Rob Houghtlin kick that gave #1 Iowa a 12-10 win over #2 Michigan.


Most of the college football nation was watching this game; I will contend that this could have been the most watched Iowa football game in history.  1985's game was over the air television, but that was a middle of the year affair and there was no BCS.  To be honest, the overwhelming majority of college football fans in America were rooting for Iowa yesterday, and the game was shown to 70 percent of the nation on over the air television, with the other 30% getting the game on ESPN.  By the time Iowa was making its final drive of the game, anyone that wasn't an LSU or Alabama fan was watching Iowa-Penn State.


And they saw that Iowa's football program is still relevant, thank you very much.  This is easily one of the most significant games of the last 50 years.  It will be all the more so if Iowa wins its next two games, goes to the Outback Bowl and beats an SEC opponent to finish 9-4.


Number One:  Iowa 10, Nebraska 7, September 12th, 1981


Again, this is my list and you may disagree.  But this was the day that the Iowa football program was back on the map, as the Hawkeyes had suffered 19 straight losing seasons prior to that miraculous 1981 Rose Bowl campaign.  Nebraska had smothered Iowa 57-0 the year before, and the Cornhuskers were college football royalty at that time. 


They came into the season opening game at Kinnick Stadium ranked #6 in the nation and no one gave Iowa a chance.  I was 10 years old at the time, and I still remember listening to this game on the radio; it was when my love affair with Iowa football began, 18 months after I fell in love with Iowa basketball.


After the final horn had sounded, it took Iowa fans 30 seconds to rip down the goal posts.  Iowa had beaten Penn State 7-6 in 1976 and topped UCLA 21-10 in 1974, but those were flukes.  Iowa went on to show the nation that this was no fluke, as they also beat Michigan in that season en route to a Big Ten title, the program's first since the 1950's.


At the time, Hayden Fry called it the biggest win of his coaching career, and Nebraska's Tom Osborne called it one of his most disappointing losses; he was 75-20-2 at Nebraska prior to that game.


This was the day that the modern era tradition of Iowa football was born, and that's why it's #1 on my list.

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